Monday, November 2, 2009

Seeking consistency

Stefan Chaput is checked by Springfield's Johan Motin
(Photo by Jennifer Bock)

"Consistency is key." It is a common cliché phrase in sports, but it often rings true, especially for the River Rats at this particular juncture. 

After a strong start to the season, the Rats have fallen into a slump. Albany has just one win in the last six games. 

The Rats suffered two losses over the weekend and dropped to fourth place in the East Division with an overall record of 5-5-1.

Albany was defeated Friday by the Springfield Falcons in a shootout, 4-3, and beaten down the next night by the Hershey Bears, 4-1. In both games, the team looked slow, sluggish and out-of-sync. Every attempt to build momentum fell flat. 

Much of the Rats' offense depended on a strategy of dump-and-chase, but they were slow to enter the zone and were out-battled along the boards. Rarely did they come up with the puck. 

Miscommunication resulted in repeated offsides, unnecessary icings, and turnovers in every sector of the ice. The Rats were also caught off guard on line changes more than once. 

Defensively, Albany did a decent job of clogging the center of the ice, but they were slow to gain control of the puck, which allowed the opposition repeated break-out attempts. 

On several occasions, the Rats failed to cover traffic in front of the net. The defenders and centers were not keeping track of the open forwards as both Springfield and Hershey moved the puck down low. 

Some of the blueliners also need work handling the puck under pressure. There were far too many turnovers in the defensive zone. 

Some limited praise is still deserved. The team was not functioning as a whole, but extraordinary individual efforts by a small group of names kept them on life support.

Not enough can be said about captain Pat Dwyer. As usual, he forced the puck in the zone and created chances from all angles. He was also deadly on the penalty kill and now is a league-leader with two short-handed goals. Dwyer is a constant spark of light for the Rats.

The same goes for Drayson Bowman, whose fast legs, quick shot and extra effort helped generate numerous scoring chances in both weekend games. Bowman also showed more grit than usual. He refused to get pushed around after whistles. 

Props also go to Jerome Samson for showing extra energy when everyone else appeared to be half asleep. At times, Samson looked like he was putting on a stick-handling clinic. He, too, stepped up his physical game. 

Zach Boychuk continues to show off his talents and produce highlight reel quality goals. He scored another beauty against Springfield.

Matthew Pistilli was another standout. He played exceptionally well and scored two goals against the Falcons.

Nonetheless, the momentary outbursts of a few could not overcome the overall poor performance of the team.

The home crowd offered little help. Attendance at the Times Union Center continues to disappoint. There were only 2,422 people at Friday's game. Meanwhile, folks in Hershey were complaining Saturday about the "low" turnout of 6,802. 

The Rats will have a chance to bounce back with three big home games this week, including two against division rivals. Albany will face off against the Binghamton Senators on Wednesday, the Lowell Devils on Friday and the Adirondack Phantoms on Saturday. 

The River Rats have the skill and depth to be true competitors this season, but they need to balance intensity and intelligence. They must skate hard and stay focused, game-in and game-out.

Consistency is key.